Last night I watched that corny old film Love Story (1970). I love watching films from the 70′s, I guess because I grew up then, and I enjoy relearning all the cultural information coded into the texture of the film, beyond just what the story wants me to know. The fashion, the modes of speech, the clothes, cars, hairstyles, attitudes. This is true of films from any period, but extra true of a period one has lived through.
Anyway, it was a cornball fest with somewhat interesting cultural revelations. Things such as — the characters represent these supposedly modern young people and liberated woman who don’t believe in God and shockingly choose a civil ceremony for their wedding in which they shckingly write their own vows. Yet in spite of the modern new world they live in, when she is diagnosed with the un-named fatal disease, the doctor lies to her and says everything is OK but reveals to the husband that she’s dying, and encourages him to conceal it from her, which he does.
Jesus! So in 1970 it was considered perfectly ethical to lie to patients about their diagnosis and deny them a chance to seek a second opinion? When did the AMA get together and rethink that? I believe that nowadays the doctor tells the patient the diagnosis, even if it’s a woman. Sometime between 1970 and 2008 they got that straight, but I don’t remember it happening.
The other weird bit of cultural information was the use of profanity. They say “goddamn” and “dammit” and “bullshit” a whole lot, in strangely inoccuous ways. Cheerfully, with a smile on their faces, while politely holding the door open for the other or passing the sugar. In one scene she’s leading a children’s choir in a church preparing for a Christmas play, and she says to one of the children, “Don’t bullshit me.” I’m not a prude or much of a Christian, but I believe that a person talking this way to children in a church would be considered a little bit harsh and disrepectful today. Yet we’re supposedly charmed and in love with this carefree young woman.
I’d be interested to learn about how the use of profanity has changed in time. To me all those words, which I use daily, have an edge to them and indicate some degree of harshness, anger or something. To use them in this soft and cuddly way strikes me as very false, but I remember this sort of thing from movies from this time. It’s as though either real people or just film writers were suddenly free to use them, so they overused them, diluting the meaning. And now that we’re over that, they have settled back to their original harsh meanings and usage. Or something.
Anyway, it was a dumb movie, but was still fun to watch with your goddamn girlfriend.